Wed. Mar 29th, 2023

Millions of dollars’ worth of advertising has flooded the airwaves in Kansas, part of a sudden burst of attention and spending as voters prepare for the country’s first electoral test addressing abortion since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

Kansans are voting on whether to add language to their State Constitution that would clear a path for Republican lawmakers to restrict or ban the procedure. So far, roughly $12 million has been poured into the race — split about evenly between both camps.

As each side made its pitch before the vote on Tuesday, they presented starkly different views of the stakes of the proposed change, which would specify that the Kansas Constitution contains no guaranteed right to abortion and make clear that lawmakers could pass new limits.

Supporters of the measure, who have received much of their funding from the Roman Catholic Church, have emphasized in their advertising that the amendment itself would not outlaw abortion. “It doesn’t ban abortion or remove exceptions — that’s just a scare tactic,” Mayor Peggy Dunn of Leawood, Kan., says in one oft-aired TV spot funded by Value Them Both, a group leading the vote-yes effort. Value Them Both reported raising $2.45 million in 2022 from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Kansas City, Kan., and $550,000 from the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, accounting for a majority of the group’s cash donations this year.

Opponents of the amendment, who have seen a surge in funding from national abortion-rights groups, have framed the amendment as a gateway to a near or total ban in a state where abortion is currently legal until 22 weeks of pregnancy. “This confusing constitutional mandate amendment could lead to a full ban of any abortion in Kansas,” says one ad from Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a group leading the opposition.

Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist, said those contrasting views on how to frame the race had contributed to accusations of dishonesty on the campaign trail.

“You have the one side that just wants to narrowly talk about the amendment, and then not talk about what comes next, and then you have the other side that wants to just jump right to what comes next,” Dr. Miller said.

Value Them Both and other groups supporting the amendment have spent more than $6 million combined on advertising, according to data from the media tracking firm AdImpact. Kansans for Constitutional Freedom has also spent more than $6 million. The limited polling that is available has suggested the vote may be close.

Even before Roe fell, about half the women who received abortions in Kansas lived in another state, a fact that supporters of the amendment have seized on in their ads. “California and Kansas don’t have much in common, but we do when it comes to abortion,” one Value Them Both ad says. “Kansas has become an abortion destination,” a doctor says in another ad.

Abortion-rights supporters have repeatedly made an appeal to voters’ small-government instincts in their commercials. “Kansans don’t want another government mandate,” a vote-no television spot claims. “It’s a government mandate that could ban all abortions, with no exceptions, even rape and incest,” a doctor says in another ad.

The vote has taken on added importance because Kansas is an increasingly rare red-state haven for abortion rights, bordered on two sides by states, Missouri and Oklahoma, with near-total bans. If the amendment passes, the question is not whether Republicans would try to wield their commanding legislative majorities to pass new restrictions, but how far they would go in doing so.

The state’s Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, supports abortion rights, but Republicans have enough votes to override her veto if they are united. Republicans could also wait to plan their next moves until November, when they will know whether Ms. Kelly prevailed in a difficult re-election race.

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